With Friends Like These ...

Getty Images/Illustration Works
Getty Images/Illustration Works

Dear Mr. White:

After reading your hypertensive response to my article, I could not help but wonder if the straw man would press assault charges. Having read your work on previous occasions, I will admit to being a bit surprised by that you took the tone of a feuding rapper at my suggestion that there should be electoral consequences for the recent campaign behavior of the Clintons.


We should be clear: There already have been consequences if the black vote in South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama is any indication. I remain an Obama supporter and I suspect that if Hillary Clinton becomes the party's nominee, we will see a good deal of the black electorate sit this one out–which will have the net effect of helping McCain get elected. As this story unfolds it becomes increasingly likely that we will see a Florida 2000 redux at the convention this August as superdelegates line up behind the establishment candidate. This is, after all, the reason they exist. No less than the DP stalwart Donna Brazile has gone on the record stating that she will quit the party if the superdelegates decide this election – and there are likely thousands of other blacks who agree with her. The point is that Clinton may well get the nomination but only if she is willing to shatter the Democratic Party coalition.

You might do well to recall that African Americans faced a similar predicament in 1932 when we realized that the relationship with the Republican Party, to which we had been emotionally tethered since Emancipation, had reached a point of diminishing returns. In voting for Roosevelt in that election, African Americans were literally supporting the party of white slaveholders and their segregationist descendants, but did so with the strategic belief that the GOP could no longer be allowed to take black votes for granted. They ended up altering the entire trajectory of the Democratic Party.

Then, as now, there were a number of establishment blacks who suffered panic attacks at the thought of shaking up the old order. You pointed out that Sen. John McCain remained hawkish on the war in Iraq long after it had been unmasked as a reckless imperial intervention. The problem, however, is that Hillary Clinton also voted for the war, claimed to have been misled by the White House and then subsequently supported a measure that would facilitate the Bush regime attacking Iran as well.

In your letter you note that you are "as offended as I am by Bill Clinton's cynical attempts to defeat Obama by playing the race card." Um … not really. Were this truly the case, the mere thought of disrupting the old system of DP paternalism would not drive you to fits of eye-rolling indignation. It is worth noting that you compare my proposal to the kind of simplistic give-a-brother-a-break logic that endorsed the Clarence Thomas nomination, when that situation more aptly describes your own position. In the case of Clinton and Thomas, the argument is, essentially, stick with what you know irrespective of their actual behavior.

It is interesting that you spend the better part of your memo railing against the idea of defecting from the semi-abusive relationship that the Clintons have with black America without establishing how exactly blacks will benefit from Hillary Clinton's presence in the White House. It is the logic of someone in a bad relationship who finds the familiarity of abuse more comfortable than the fearsome prospect of doing something different. You seem to presume that, y'know, they, like, will help black folks and invite Vernon back to the White House and do good stuff. Perhaps they will toss us a few political appointments positions and even let us have a Soul Train line at the Christmas Party. Negro, please.

History has – or certainly should have – taught us the difference between social policy and social affinity. In the 1928 Democratic Convention, token black delegates were literally segregated from their white counterparts. (They did, however, allow a black preacher to pray for them.) Eight years later, the Democrat Franklin Roosevelt had appointed William Hastie as a federal judge, given Mary McLeod Bethune an executive position within the administration and made Robert F. Weaver an advisor for housing matters.

You conclude by scolding me to "Remember that at her worst, Clinton would serve our interests better than McCain." This kind of sepia-tinted nostalgia over the Clinton era suggests the onset of historical Alzheimer's. Hillary Clinton has gone to great pains to grandfather her time in the White House onto her political resume. But if, in fact, the years between 1992 and 2000 were a Clinton co-presidency, she would have to be held 50 percent accountable for dissing Lani Guinier, hanging Jocelyn Elders out to dry, verbally pimp-slapping Sister Souljah, ignoring Rwanda, bombing an aspirin factory in Sudan, feeding hundreds of thousands of black men to the insatiable prison industrial complex and overseeing the passage of a punitive welfare reform act.

Hillary Clinton has made consistent reference to the admittedly important work she did as a lawyer with Marian Wright Edelman's Children's Defense Fund early in her legal career. She does not mention, however, that Edelman's husband Peter resigned from Bill Clinton's administration in protest over the mean-spirited implications of the Welfare Reform Act. Taken in concert with the stunning race-baiting that took place in South Carolina and White's assumption that Clinton will represent black interests becomes shaky at best.

The old dictum holds that in politics one has no permanent friends, no permanent enemies, just permanent interests. As time and circumstance have shown the Clintons have taken that ideal to heart. Perhaps black folk should too.

William Jelani Cobb is associate professor of history at Spelman College and author of "The Devil & Dave Chappelle and Other Essays." His blog, "The Delegate," appeared on The Root last week.